Scenes from Real Life ~ Groceries

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Three more items: ginger salad dressing, laundry beads, big water. I repeat them to myself so as not to forget. I’m almost done this round of grocery shopping. Another customer peeks out of the aisle I’m about to go down. I pause to let him pass, but he eases back into the aisle. I turn and slide by him. “Excuse me, sir?” Such a soft, polite voice issues from this gentle giant; an older (50s?) African-American gentleman. Maybe 6’3”, somewhat heavyset, short graying dreadlocks, he seems to recede within himself as if stooping might minimize his size. “I’ve just lost my job and was wondering if you might be able to help me?” “I don’t have any cash on me.” A true reply but one so automatic it feels like a lie. “Well, if you could put anything—anything at all—on a card, even, it would help so much.” I look at the smaller cart he’s filled with maybe 10 items. “I don’t think it will be more than $20 total,” he says. “Sure. I can do that.” I turn my attention to the salad dressings right in front of me as he says “Thank you. You must be a Christian.” Without looking at him, I say, “Wayward.” “Well not too far off to take on a big man like me. There’s still time for you.” We both laugh. “Maybe there is,” I say. He asks if I’m a Nats fan. Not really I reply. Skins? A little—I tell him my family’s from Baltimore so I lean toward the Orioles and the Ravens, but don’t follow either closely. A strong, unpleasant odor is growing stronger. He mentions a hint of Orioles orange in the sunglasses resting on top of my head. “I don’t want to hold you up. How ‘bout I just meet you up front?” “That sounds great,” I say, “I’ve got 3 or 4 things to get and should be up that way in about five minutes.” As he lumbers up the aisle, the smell trails behind him. It is a smell I associate with mental illnesses whose collateral damage includes personal hygiene.

 

I waste another minute or so looking for the one dressing they don’t have, then it’s laundry beads, and a 4-gallon container of water. I see him and give him a thumbs up. “You all set?” He nods. We form a mini train heading toward the open cash registers. “Do you have a discount card?” he asks. “These juices are on sale, but make sure they discount them. Sometimes they’ll get you.” The lines are crowded and we exchange a line or two about how busy it can get. A new line opens up and we get a break. I put my groceries on the conveyor belt, then his as I ask the cashier to bag them separately. He’s got 4 cartons of Tropicana Twister fruit drink, 8 mini cans of Vienna sausages, and 4 boxes of Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies. It reminds me of my late mother-in-law, a true devotee of comfort foods. He has struck up a conversation with the African-American woman behind us in line and seems fully engaged. I finish paying, put his bags back in his cart. I have to interrupt to shake his hand and wish him luck. He tells me to have a good day as he turns his attention back to the woman.

 

I leave feeling confused. Did I get taken advantage of? Was this helpful to anyone? Was I expecting a greater sign of appreciation? Honestly, all I feel is awkward. I load the groceries in the trunk and stop by the frozen yogurt place to take some home to my wife and son. All of this has cost me nothing in relative terms. My own health and financial security feel like mere luck. I try not to take them for granted.

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A man makes a coat out of an old piece of cloth.
When the coat is in tatters, he makes a vest from the coat.
When the vest is in tatters, he makes a scarf from the vest.
When the scarf is in tatters, he makes a cap from the scarf.
When the cap is in tatters, he makes a button from the cap.
From the button the man makes nothing at all.
And then from the nothing at all he makes this song.

– Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days

Language & Technology ~ Three Rogations

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HAIL MAYBE

Hail Maybe,
full of safe,
the Lore is with thee.
Undressed are thou among adverbs
and fleshly is the antecedent
of thy doom.
Holy Maybe, Mother of Sod,
delay for us slackers
now and at the dower
of our breath.
amen.


UNTITLED

Repost-Like-Follow
connect me with
you to them so
I can friend your
avatar, retweet your
hashtag upside your
network of digital
handles dying for a
quick meme
death archived in
IP heaven, live-
streamed through
an unfanned server hell
rebooted with each
post, modern update,
like 404 error riddles
overclocked, open-source
databased perversions
whose corruptions
penetrate identities
on the line
offset by network
exorcisms plug-and-played
straight up your
tightest port, as
secure socket layers
rot silicon pus
oozing out
interfaced dreams
infinite-looped
ad infinitum digitopolis
without end amen.


THE WWW PRAYER

Our Online, Who art in Cyberspace,
Hallow by Thy URL;
Thy System run, Thy data be done,
In analog as in digitalia.
Link us this cycle, our daily feeds,
And format us our drives,
As we format zero/ones among us;
And route us not into page migration
But upload us eternal,
Amen.

Like Taking Candy from a Baby

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“Ya been keepin’ out of trouble?” my Uncle Joe asked.

“You know it! I’m the early bird gettin’ the worm and all that.”

“Don’t forget that you’re working hard to play hard, right? You look a little rundown–gettin’ enough rest?” he said.

“Oh, I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Heheh.”

He hugged me, said something about the apple landing near the tree, and told me to keep up the good work. We wished each other a good-day-god-speed-happy-trails-goodbye-for-now. He mumbled something about my having greener grass as he turned and walked off into the sunset. I thought he might be vaporized.

I was counting my blessings on the way home when I passed a babe in the woods beating a dead horse. I didn’t know him from Adam, so I just tried to mind my own business. The winds of change made it feel like a dark and stormy night was approaching quick as a bunny. The town floozy was on the corner like clockwork shouting that “a hard man is good to find!” I thought she’d have thrown in the towel by now, but apparently there were still a few men of honor who would touch her with a ten foot pole.

As I turned the corner at Memory Lane, I tripped. Talk about taking a load off! Before I came to my senses, I was staring eye to eye with a green pill bug. Worried that he’d heard through the grapevine that I was not playing with a full deck of cards, I tried to beat him to the punchline. “Knock, knock.” I said. “Who’s there?” he replied. “Your mama!” I laughed like a hyena. He told me it was better to burn out than to fade away, at which point, he let down his hair, curled into a ball and started his rolling anti-moss-gathering maneuvers. I took this as a sign from God and began to watch like no one was dancing.

It felt as if a moment of truth was upon me. At the end of my tunnel vision, a light, brighter than a thousand sons. Either I had my wires crossed, it was darkest before the dawn (aside from that weird light in the distance), or I had indeed had my fifteen minutes of fame.

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I had this idea in the middle of the night that maybe I could stop working for the almost astronaut and get a job writing fortune cookies instead. I could try to write really American ones. Already, I’ve jotted down a few of them. Objects create happiness. The animals are pleased to be of use. Your cities will shine forever. Death will not touch you.

– Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Ledger’s Domain

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DATE                    DESCRIPTION/PAYEE                                                                                COST


October 5th     |     Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club                                                                      $57.89


October 6th     |     Jezabelle’s Floral Emporium–anniversary arrangement               $45.00


October 7th    |     Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club                                                                       $104.37


October 8th     |     Joe’s Swedish Massage Warehouse                                                    $300.00


November 4th |     Institute for Couple’s Counseling                                                          $50.00


November 11th |  Institute for Couple’s Counseling                                                          $50.00


November 18th |  Institute for Couple’s Counseling                                                          $50.00


November 25th |  Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club                                                                      $450.00


December 2nd |  S. OWE DOTES Divorce Attorneys                                                        $350.00


December 25th |  Hilltop Motel–week’s deposit                                                               $500.00


January 1st       |     Morning Heights Apartments, Inc.                                                 $2,400.00


January 15th    |  Child Support Payment #1                                                                     $675.00


January 16th    |  Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club                                                                       $150.00


January 19th   |  Morning Heights Clinic–STD screening                                                 $50.00


January 21st   |  Gurn’s Pharmacy–prescription ointment                                             $68.19


February 10th |  Gurn’s Pharmacy–prescription refill                                Insufficient funds


 

Note: I wondered whether one could tell a story using someone’s checkbook or credit card statements. It would be akin to turning the reader into a kind of investigator piecing together the clues… filling in the blanks. Could you create a sense of character? If so, to what degree? This was my initial draft above and while it was an interesting experiment to attempt, I don’t think I’ll be doing so again.